By Lora Leigh
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2008 Lora Leigh Inc.
All rights reserved.
TWO YEARS LATER
It was snowing. Of course, it was December in Washington, D.C., and it was bound to snow eventually. The fat, fluffy flakes drifted like a wintry cape from the dark, cloud-laden sky. There was little wind, so it fell and piled, and in the time it took Kia Rutherford to escape from the hotel and the very boring party she had attended and to go to the little corner bar, it had covered the sidewalks.
The salt trucks were already running, their plows lifted for now. The heavily traveled streets of Alexandria would stay clear for a while yet. The sidewalks were another matter.
She stepped carefully in her three-inch heels. They were perfectly safe to wear in the hotel, but here, on the slick sidewalk, was another story. She held the skirt of her winter white velvet dress to her ankles and wished she had just tried to grab a cab and risk going home rather than attempting to hide for a while.
There were few places she could hide where she wasn't well known. The bar was one of those places. She had been inside it several times in the past year. It was close to the hotels she was forced to attend events in, and those events invariably included her ex-husband, Drew.
She lowered her head as she ducked into the bar, pulling the wrap that was much too light for this weather around her cold arms.
She waved to the bartender and he nodded quickly as she headed to the table she always snagged. In the corner, where it was dark and shadowed and she could watch. Just watch the patrons as they chatted, laughed, joked.
Friends came in with friends or business associates. They could get a little loud, but they laughed and slapped each other on the back and had fun.
"It's a little cold out there tonight, honey." The barmaid, a young woman named Andrea, sat a chilled bottle of beer in front of Kia and smiled back at her in concern as she let her eyes rove over her evening gown.
Andrea was quiet, a dark brunette with laughing gray eyes and a smile for everyone. Her sweater and jeans attested to the fact that the chill in the air outside often seeped inside here as well.
"Yes, it is," Kia agreed as she accepted the beer. "They're saying several inches of snow tonight and much more in the morning."
"Ten inches, last I heard," Andrea agreed. "We should all just hunker down with a hot man and a hotter fire."
Kia smiled as Andrea turned away.
The pub wasn't very full tonight. It was only the middle of the week, after all. She sipped at her beer and pulled the wrap closer around her shoulders, repressing a shiver as she looked around.
From where she sat, most of the room was visible to her. Only the two back corners were as shadowed as her own. They were private, cocooned with darkness.
She sighed deeply as she played with the chilled bottle of beer, stared down at her fingers, and wondered why the hell she had come here. She could have gotten a room at the hotel. Drew would have known, of course, and getting her room number would have been easy for him, but he couldn't have gotten in. She could have just called security. Except she preferred to avoid a fight. Drew wasn't above causing a scene, and he hadn't yet realized that she didn't give a damn.
All fear of society's gossip had been burned out of her the day she was forced to retract her knowledge of exactly what her husband was, and what he had been a part of.
In two years, she hadn't forgotten that moment for even a single day. Or night. Some nights, she dreamed of it, and the dreams were much different than what had happened in reality.
She smiled at the thought. How brave she was in her dreams. And in those dreams Chase Falladay had tempted her to acts that her ex-husband could never have persuaded her to become a part of.
She picked at the paper label on the beer bottle and tried to tell herself that it was only the loneliness brewing inside her that made those dreams seem so very intriguing.
Two years. She had divorced and now she had no friends. She had learned that lesson quickly. She had had only a few friends, and once one of them started the gossip concerning the club she still wasn't certain about, the others had taken up the cause and added to it. By the time she managed to do the damage control Chase had requested of her, it had blown so far out of proportion that no one would have believed it anyway. And Kia had decided "friends" were more liability than advantage.
She had learned valuable lessons from her divorce. She had learned to trust no one. Except, perhaps, Chase. She almost smiled. She'd done as he told her and sued for a high divorce settlement. She'd gotten it easily. But it hadn't compensated for the pain, the humiliation, or the knowledge that her marriage had been a lie from the first day.
She tipped the beer to her lips once again, her gaze straying across the room. As she lowered the bottle she frowned, her eyes narrowing on that back corner.
It couldn't be him, she told herself. That devil's black hair reflecting in a sudden spear of light, a profile that was as strong and as determined as the man himself.
But it was him. She knew it was, and he had company.
She wasn't going to wonder at the sudden trip of her heart, the knowledge that her greatest sexual fantasy was in this bar with a man everyone in the free world knew had no problems whatsoever getting wild and depraved.
Chase Falladay and Khalid el Hamid-Mustafa, the bastard of some little-known Middle Eastern prince. He was in the news often, the gossip columns even more often. And he was sitting there with Chase.
As she stared, Chase's head lifted, his eyes narrowing through the smoky gloom, finding her instantly.
The breath left her. He couldn't know it was her. There was even less light here than there was in his corner. Then Khalid turned as well, his black eyes amused, his expression sensual as he lifted a glass and toasted her.
Shock raced through her. There was no way to run now, no way to hide. This wasn't a society ball or event where all she had to do was drift to another pocket of guests to avoid either of them.
Chase, because he was a temptation. Khalid, because he was known to help Chase tempt the women they had shared in the past months.
News of the club of men who shared their women may have died down over the years, but there were certain men rumored, always rumor only, to enjoy that particular pleasure more than any other.
Only a few, as though those brave, hungry souls relished the gossip they caused.
She took a long sip of the beer to ease the dryness in her mouth as she turned her gaze away from them. They couldn't truly know who she was, she assured herself. She had to assure herself of that, otherwise she'd never be able to force herself to stay in place.
Chase stared into the corner, wondering if Kia had any idea how the light spilled from the bar and glistened over the winter white velvet wrap and dress she wore. She looked like a snow princess fallen from the cloudy skies. Soft creamy flesh, champagne blond hair, blue eyes, wide with a hint of nerves and fear. And something else.
Hell, he had to be drunk. That something else couldn't have been there.
"I wondered how long it would take her to get curious," Khalid remarked as he turned back to Chase.
"Curious about what?" Chase asked, watching as the lights caught the twinkle of diamonds in her upswept hair.
"About you, my friend, and the pleasures you could give her. I've watched her gaze sweep over you for two years now. And wondered what she hid beneath those lashes that swept over her eyes each time," he explained.
Chase snorted. "Hatred?"
Khalid shook his head. "Never that." His smile was hard, curling with knowledge. "The two of you tiptoe around each other as though you're terrified of the electricity flashing between you. She knows what you are." He leaned forward. "And still, she's curious. I, of course, would be available if you needed a third."
"You're horny," Chase growled. "Who says I'd pick you for my third anyway?"
Khalid chuckled at that. "Who cares? A woman such as that one, you would have no hardship in finding a man willing to provide that service. But I would know immeasurable pleasure in being so chosen."
The amusement in Khalid's black eyes had Chase shaking his head at the other man.
"Perhaps it is fear that holds you back?" Khalid grinned then. "Your brother Cameron I have learned is floating in monogamous bliss where his woman Jaci is concerned. Perhaps you are afraid it is contagious?"
Chase tore his gaze from Kia. She looked cold. She was too close to the door to manage any warmth dressed as she was. As soft, as delicate as she looked in her outfit, she had to be freezing.
She tugged the wrap more firmly around her shoulders when Chase realized he hadn't torn his gaze from her for long. Perhaps a second. Maybe.
"Why not ask her to join us for a drink?" Khalid suggested. "She would be well hidden here with us." He waved a broad hand at the corner next to Chase. "And I have no doubt she would be warmer."
Chase was rising to his feet before Khalid was finished talking. He ignored the other man's laughter and moved across the room. She would join them, or he would take her home. Any other option was out of the question. She was tempting him to the point that his back teeth ached at the thought of touching her, and he wasn't thinking about the erection pounding beneath his slacks.
She watched him as he approached. He felt her eyes on him, raking over him, nervous little looks that made him tense in arousal. She'd been doing this to him even before her ex-husband had tried to force her into a ménage. And he'd been furious that Drew had chosen to try to draw her into that lifestyle without her knowledge beforehand.
"You look a snow fairy," he said, leaning against the heavy post that supported the ceiling, only a few feet from her table.
Her gaze lifted, her slender neck rippling as she swallowed tightly.
"Well, it is snowing tonight." She cleared her throat.
It was there between them, he could feel it. He could see it in her eyes, almost taste it in the air around them. If she left that table to join him, it was going to be for much more than a drink.
He glanced away from her for a moment, acknowledging that every attempt he had made to stay away from her had just flown the hell out the window.
When he turned back, his jaw clenched.
"I'm not playing games with you, Kia. I have too damned much respect for you for that." He held his hand out to her. "Would you like to join us?"
She looked over to where Khalid had turned in his chair enough to watch them. His dark eyes gleamed with sensual, sexual knowledge. Just as Chase's did.
She stared at his hand.
She had wondered for two years what being with him would be like. What the pleasure could be. The knowledge in his eyes when he told her it was only for the pleasure.
"What if I can't?" she whispered, knowing what he meant. "What then?"
"Then you can't." He continued to hold his hand out. "It's your choice."
It was her choice. She hadn't been offered a choice before — she had nearly been raped by her husband instead.
But this wasn't Drew. This was the man who had been honest with her from the start. He had, in small ways, perhaps, but in ways impossible for her to miss, protected her.
She looked at his hand again, remembering the dreams, the fantasies, and all the lonely nights when she had assured herself, if this night ever came, she would have the courage to take his hand.
She stood slowly, holding her wrap around her shoulders with one hand as she saw Khalid rise from his chair at the back of the room.
"The limo's outside." Chase took her hand in his, broad, warm fingers wrapping around her smaller, paler ones. "Are you going home?"
Where she was alone? Where she could dream about him rather than taking her courage in both hands and becoming the woman she had been wishing she could be?
She was breathing harshly. She could feel her breasts rising and falling, felt his gaze flick over them as he began to pull her to the door.
"I don't want to go home yet," she finally whispered.
His arm went around her back, his hand cupping her hip as her velvet dress swished about his legs.
"I won't take you home then." They reached the door to the bar and stepped out as the limo, a Hummer no less, pulled up to the sidewalk.
Snow covered the sidewalk now, a good inch, and she barely noticed it.
She didn't worry about the hem of her dress, because suddenly she was being lifted in his arms, her eyes widening, her wrap slipping as she clutched at his shoulders.
"I don't want you to slip and fall," he stated as the chauffeur opened the door smoothly. Chase ducked inside the warm interior, holding her against him as he moved into the sumptuous limo and sat down by a narrow bar counter, in one of the thickly padded, wide leather seats.
Khalid followed and the door closed behind them, the tinted windows hiding them, securing them against curious eyes.
The interior of the Hummer was incredible. The seats were wide, the dark leather was probably comfortable, but as Chase held her, she was betting he was more comfortable. Even with the thick wedge of his erection pressing into her hip.
She wasn't certain what she was getting herself into now. She leaned back against Chase's shoulder and drew in a hard breath. She was only seconds away from requesting that they take her home after all.
She couldn't do this. She thought she was brave. Thought she was courageous.
"Khalid, this limo is insane, you know." Chase glanced around the interior, his hand stroking comfortingly down Kia's back as the vehicle moved smoothly through the streets.
"So I told my father when he had it delivered." Khalid shrugged. "But it came with free petrol from his stations, so who am I to complain?" Khalid winked at Kia playfully. "I'm, of course, a bit more conservative with my own wealth."
"Yeah, Khalid buys horses instead." Chase chuckled.
"Fine beasts." Khalid grinned. "But one thing this is good for is the viewing pleasure of all the beautiful lights through our fair city as it snows. All the comforts of home." He waved to the windows that surrounded the seats. "And we don't have to worry about getting stuck for quite a while."
"Khalid likes to run his security detail ragged in the snow," Chase told her with a hint of laughter.
"It's not the security detail I have such fun with," Khalid drawled, the faint Middle Eastern flavor of his voice tinged with his own amusement. "It's those damned special agents they keep on my ass. You'd think I wasn't a U.S. citizen."
"One tied to a very rich, fairly powerful sheik," Chase pointed out.
Khalid winked at her again, and Chase felt her relax, not a lot, but enough that perhaps she wasn't gearing up to demand to be taken home.
"I assure you, Ms. Rutherford," Khalid announced. "It is Rutherford now, yes?"
"Yes," she breathed out faintly.
Chase had been unaware she had returned to her maiden name.
"As I was saying, I assure you, I'm related to the sheik by only the thinnest of bloodlines and a father that has more money than any true connections. Though he does enjoy spending the money on his youngest bastard son." Khalid's lips quirked mockingly.
Kia inhaled slowly as Chase continued to rub her back. Damn her and her bare back. Her wrap was barely hanging to one shoulder now, the velvet dress held to her shoulders by thin straps, the velvet covering her breasts doing very little to cover the firm mounds.
She was incredible. Beautiful. Several strands of hair had slipped from the diamond pins that held it in place, the blond strands framing her face and neck.
A light flush mounted her cheeks and her sapphire blue eyes, were filled with vulnerable curiosity and courage. He'd known, somehow, over the past two years, it would come to this. And he had pushed it, pushed her, made her more curious each time he'd pursued her for a dance at a party or a moment to chat at an event.
"The lights are pretty tonight." She swallowed tightly again and found her fingers curled over Chase's forearm, where it lay across her thighs.
She stared out the window across from her as the limo wove through traffic, stopping smoothly at traffic lights, moving more slowly past the elaborately lit areas.
"The lights are gorgeous this time of the year, especially during a snowfall." But Khalid wasn't staring at the lights, he was staring at her.
His voice was low, smooth, and charming. It was sexy, but it lacked the true warmth she heard in Chase's voice.
"Jaci and Cam are putting up the Christmas tree tonight." Chase grunted. "One of the reasons I ended up in a bar rather than reading comfortably in my apartment. They threatened earlier to make me help."
"You don't like Christmas trees?" She risked looking up at him now, and the light green orbs held her, mesmerized her as they always did.
Each time his gaze caught hers, she wanted to sink into it, live within it forever. There was something mysterious, something completely male and forbidden each time he held her gaze with his.
Of course, she knew the forbidden. It was here, in this limo. Chase and the third he had obviously chosen, and they were nothing compared to the husband and the third who had terrified her years before.
No, it hadn't been terror, it had been rage. He had attempted to get her drunk and when he thought she was, he had then snuck another man into their bed. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Only Pleasure by Lora Leigh. Copyright © 2008 Lora Leigh Inc.. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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